In a newspaper interview, Isabella once confided her method for coping with troubling events that upset her:
Whenever things went wrong, I went home and wrote a book about it.
Many of the trials she weathered in real life ended up as turning points for characters in her books. One such situation occurred when Isabella was a young bride and was working hard to make a good impression on her husband’s new congregation.
About a week after she and her husband arrived at a new church where he was to minister, Isabella received a gift from a member of the congregation. It was a “pitiful little bonnet,” clearly made out of the sleeve of an old brown dress. Whoever fashioned it had not tried to hide the wrinkles and pin holes still visible from the bonnet’s former life as a dress.
“In my ignorance [I supposed] it to be a love-gift from some dear old poverty-stricken soul.”
So Isabella, filled with gratitude, wore the unattractive bonnet to church the very next Sunday. There she discovered the truth: the person who made the hat and gave it to Isabella was the wealthiest woman in town. She’d sent it to Isabella because she deemed Isabella’s own bonnet was “too gay for a minister’s wife!”
In the book, Martha Remington was, like Isabella, the newly-wed wife of a new minister. And Martha, too, received a gift from a wealthy lady in the congregation.
When the bandbox was opened, she struggled with her inward conviction that she ought to feel grateful. Therein lay a bonnet—a very remarkable one. It was made of mixed green and black silk, shirred after the fashion of our grandmothers. Some of the shirrs had been laid in the old creases, and some had not. Between every third row came an obstinate crease, made in the times when the silk did duty as a dress sleeve—a crease that refused to be covered with stitches, or ironed out, but told its tale of “second-hand” as plainly as though it had a tongue.
As the story progressed, one of the ladies who created the ugly bonnet confronted Martha on Sunday after church, and added further insult to injury by demanding to know why Martha was still wearing her usual hat, instead of the gift the ladies had sent. Martha’s reply was friendly, but dignified—a response that was much different than Isabella’s reaction had been in real life.
Isabella later said that writing about the bonnet helped heal the woman’s hurtful actions, and, eventually, she was able to look back on it all with humor … possibly because writing about the woman’s insult really did help her see the whole incident in a more forgiving light.
You can read more about Martha and the “grotesque” bonnet in Aunt Hannah and Martha and John. The book also contains a few more examples of awkward situations Isabella encountered in her years as a minister’s wife. Click on the book cover to learn more.